Zelos getting to grips with life in the fast lane as Mini Max graduation gathers pace
Having stepped up from Comer Cadet level to the more powerful and fiercely-competitive Mini Max class for 2012 with Tooley Motorsport, Dan Zelos has sent out a warning shot to his rivals by displaying scintillating raw pace aboard his new mount right from the outset.
Dan finished an excellent eighth in the MSA British Cadet class of the Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone-backed Formula Kart Stars Championship last year – tallying seven top ten final finishes as well as six top three heat results including a brace of magnificent victories. From there, Mini Max marked the logical next step for the talented young Dereham-based hotshot – and barely had the season concluded than a deal had been struck with Tooley Motorsport, the outfit that ran Ross Gunn to 2011 British title glory in the national Super 1 Series.
“We wanted to make an early decision about which team to go with,” he explained, “and we gave it a lot of thought. When Andrew and Dave Tooley spoke to us, they made a very good impression. There’s a really friendly, professional atmosphere inside the team, and I already knew a few of the other drivers there, too, which helped. It’s important to have team-mates in the same class as you so you can improve the kart more quickly, and overall, I feel that I’ve settled in well.”
A tremendously encouraging testing debut at Whilton Mill – one of the most physically demanding tracks in the country – saw Dan lapping on the leading pace within just half a day, and his subsequent race meetings have proven to be every bit as auspicious.
First time out at PF International – and up against all the Mini Max big-hitters to make it even more of a baptism of fire – the Northgate High School pupil annexed a trio of superb top seven heat placings to line up on the second row of the starting grid for the final in a bumper 32-strong field. Unfortunately, Dan’s lack of experience in the class then showed as he was pressurised into a rare mistake that sent him plummeting down the order, but it was to his immense credit that he fought his way grittily back through to 13th at the chequered flag.
Despite not coming away with the kind of result his efforts deserved, it was a valuable learning weekend nonetheless. What’s more, the second-fastest lap time – bettered only by Gunn – represented a real boost, and that raw speed was replicated next time out at Glan Y Gors, where the 13-year-old rebounded from mechanical issues during the heats to wind up a commendable sixth in the final.
Up against some exceptionally high-calibre adversaries once more at Whilton Mill, Dan’s eye-catching pace was undone by persistent electrical woes in the heats, limiting him to a solitary top ten finish and leaving him with much work to do in the final from well down the order. The manner in which he fairly scythed his way through to an eventual ninth out of the 24 contenders – barely three seconds adrift of the winner, and setting fastest lap for good measure – was magnificent to behold.
Back at PF again, meanwhile, for his last appearance of the year, Norfolk’s resident speed demon recovered from a knock in one of his heat races to claim fourth place in the other and a very competitive fifth out of 29 in the final, with another fastest lap to his name – three tenths of a second quicker than that of the winner. The positives have been many, and the pace excellent.
Acknowledging that he still needs to acclimatise to the more aggressive nature of Mini Max hostilities – particularly when the starting-lights go out – Dan reveals that he has been working hard at the gym and on his diet, with the result that heading into 2012, he is fully fit and focussed. He also insists that there is more lap time to be found both from himself and from the kart in terms of perfecting its set-up for different circuits – and most importantly of all, he is clearly up for the challenge.
“I definitely think Mini Max is the right way forward,” he underlines. “I know the competition will be extremely tough, with big grids and some very strong drivers remaining in the class and a lot of Cadet front-runners stepping up. With the kart being bigger than a Cadet, it’s harder to handle and with it being faster you get less thinking time, too. There’s a lot more grip as well, which means you can go much quicker into corners.
“That said, it was actually easier than I had thought it would be – I was worried I might struggle initially with the different handling characteristics and faster reactions required. It is tougher physically – especially on the arms – but overall, I didn’t find the step-up as hard as I had expected it to be, and I got into it pretty quickly, to be fair.
“Our pace so far has been very encouraging. I just need to work on being more assertive at the starts and a little bit more consistent in the races, and then we’ll be finishing up at the front. We’re really going to go for it. Top five in Super 1 is the target, and I think we can achieve that. We’ll certainly be giving it everything we’ve got!”
“Throughout last year at Comer Cadet level, we saw some real flashes of brilliance from Dan, especially at Kartmasters – he really made everybody sit up and take notice of him there,” adds Tooley Motorsport team manager Andrew Tooley. “We decided then that he would be a good driver to have in our team, and he certainly shows a lot of promise.
“Everything is going really well, and in the few race meetings he has had in Mini Max, he has progressed massively and is already mixing it up against the guys who will be competing at the front in 2012. Dan is always willing to learn, and he listens and takes on-board everything that we tell him. It will be the first year for him in a big kart, but we have high hopes and based upon his progress so far, I see no reason why he can’t accomplish his top five British Championship goal. That would be an excellent result for his first year in the class.”